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Moonshine, guns and rednecks are intoxicating combination in ‘Escanaba in da Moonlight’

New play showcases acting standouts
By: Review Don Chaddock/The Telegraph
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“It’s like Christmas, with guns,” is a line uttered by one of the characters in “Escanaba in da Moonlight,” and the phrase perfectly captures the spirit of this over-the-top comedy.

Penned by film actor Jeff Daniels, the play opened Friday night to a packed house at Stage Nine Theatre, 717 Sutter Street in Folsom. The play also marks the beginning of the third season for Stage Nine.

"Escanaba" may be actor Sean Mitchell’s directing debut, but he’s no stranger to theatre regulars. Mitchell acted in Stage Nine’s 2008 productions of “Bus Stop,” “Wind in the Willows,” “On Golden Pond,” “Legends” and “Wait Until Dark.”

Five actors tell the story of the Soady family’s exploits during a hunting trip in November 1989 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, deep in the woods north of Escanaba.

Ron Randolph deftly breathes life into Reuben Soady, a man of 35 who has yet to bag a buck. If he is unsuccessful this hunting season, he’ll set the record as the oldest Soady without a buck to his name. Randolph’s solid performance is the foundation around which the rest of the actors build a believable world where unbelievable things occur.

Jim Rollans plays his brother, Remnar, and his use of the accent is superb, easily the most convincing of the entire cast.

The story is told by family patriarch Albert Soady, played by Mike Jimena. Albert’s tale takes place in the “world famous” Soady Deer Camp, a basic hunting cabin. Jimena, co-owner of the theater, does a great job as Albert, breaking from the action occasionally to continue his “story” to the audience.

Family friend Jimmer Meganamee, a speech-impeded victim of alien abduction, plays comic relief. Stan Bautista, a stand out for the production, brought the house down more than once with his antics. Bautista has been performing in the Tahoe area and this production marks his return to the Sacramento area stage.

Bautista’s line, “That explains my dream,” had me in stitches, but I won’t reveal the story here or explain why the punch line is so darned funny.

Steven Read plays Ranger Tom Treato, a man who’s convinced he’s seen the face of God in the strange lights in the woods. If that sounds whacky, the play only gets stranger from there.

Native American rituals, redneck traditions, moose testicle milkshakes and “sweet sap” moonshine all make for the perfect comedic recipe.

Elise Summers Bair’s turn as Wolf Moon Dance, while brief, perfectly complemented this wonderful theatrical offering. Her performance is graceful, beautiful and serene.

“Escanaba in da Moonlight” gets five stars for superb acting, production value and its funny and heartfelt story.

The play runs through Feb. 22. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $22 general, $20 seniors and SARTA members, $15 children 12 and under. For more information, visit www.stageninefolsom.com or call 353-1001.

Don Chaddock is the editor of the Telegraph and has written movie and theatrical reviews since 1990. He may be reached at donc@goldcountrymedia.com.